TxDOT says Harbor Bridge developer ‘unresponsive’ to security concerns

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The Texas Department of Transportation has given Flatiron/Dragados, the developer overseeing construction of the new Harbor Bridge, a two-week timeline to present solutions to design issues the state agency says could lead to a collapse. if they are not resolved.

TxDOT executive director Marc Williams made the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday, more than a month after TxDOT announced the sudden halt to a key part of the bridge’s construction.

TxDOT sent a memo to Flatiron/Dragados — made public in early August — saying that an independent consultant, International Bridge Technologies, had found issues with the design of the bridge that Flatiron/Dragados needed to fix. Speaking to local media, Williams said Flatiron/Dragados had shown a “lack of responsiveness” to such concerns.

“It’s unfortunate, it’s disappointing and it’s unacceptable,” Williams said. “Despite numerous meetings between TxDOT, the Flatiron/Dragados team and IBT, Flatiron/Dragados has refused to acknowledge the security issues that have been identified or to take action to correct them. This is unacceptable and places TxDOT in the position unfortunate today to have to provide Flatiron/Dragados with a notice of default.

Lynn Allison, spokesperson for Flatiron/Dragados, declined to comment on the notice after the press conference. No representative of Flatiron/Dragados was present.

The new, nearly billion-dollar cable-stayed bridge, which will be South Texas’ tallest structure when completed, will span the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and replace the aging Harbor Bridge from the 1950s. mid-project design firm, the project is at least four years behind schedule and in danger of going over budget.

The current bridge is a signature of the Corpus Christi skyline and connects the city via US 181 to North Beach, home to popular tourist attractions such as the USS Lexington and the Texas State Aquarium. TxDOT said the current bridge remains “structurally sound” and is continually inspected.

Earlier this year, Flatiron/Dragados said the project should be finished and open to traffic sometime in 2024. However, how long the suspension – which only affects the cable-stayed part – could be and to what extent the project might be delayed is also not known, Williams said.

Construction crews work into the evening on the new Harbor Bridge June 27, 2022, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Williams said a slew of documents related to IBT’s findings and correspondence between TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados would be made public after the re-conference.

The transparency step comes after local elected officials, community members and state lawmakers called on TxDOT to release more information following its July 15 pause announcement.

This announcement kicked off a series of events in the following weeks in which TxDOT provided drip-feed information on why construction on the project was suspended.

What we know about the construction pause

The calls for information escalated until a bipartisan group of state lawmakers asked TxDOT to release more information “as soon as possible” about the pause and its possible implications. This led TxDOT to release a three-page memo that provided new insight into the severity of its design issues.

The memo says that TxDOT’s independent consultant, IBT, presented “numerous technical findings and observations that need to be addressed” to Flatiron/Dragados and found five main areas of concern regarding the design of the bridge.

Four of the concerns relate to shortcomings in parts of the design, some of which could lead to collapse under certain conditions. These findings include inadequate capacity of the pylon’s drilled wells, flaws in the footings, design flaws in the delta frame and significant uplift at the intermediate pillars, according to the memo. The fifth reason relates to the specific locations of the cranes during construction.

Addressed to project manager Keith Armstrong, the TxDOT memo says Flatiron/Dragados had previously declined to make requested changes that the agency first sent out in late April.

The memo states that Flatiron/Dragados “failed to adequately address the non-conforming design” and that the developer and Arup-CFC, the design company that replaced the previous one, “continue to deny any issues. of design despite ample evidence to the contrary.”

In this 2018 rendering of the new Port of Corpus Christi Headquarters is a depiction of the Port Bridge replacement currently under construction.

The day after TxDOT announced the pause, a Flatiron/Dragados spokesperson sent a written statement in response to questions from the Caller-Times. He said the joint venture was “confident in the safety and durability of the bridge as designed” and would continue to work with TxDOT.

“FDLLC has hired some of the most experienced and prestigious cable-stayed bridge designers in the world,” the July 16 statement read. “FDLLC will continue to meet its contractual obligations and work in good faith with TxDOT.”

The memo also shed light on design disagreements between TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados. However, the disagreement was not new.

The Caller-Times obtained direction letters, change orders and correspondence between Flatiron/Dragados and TxDOT through a series of open filing applications filed before and after the announcement of the break. The newspaper also has pending requests for documents that TxDOT says it will provide on Tuesday.

Two letters from June 2021 indicate that TxDOT had expressed concerns about the design for at least a year. Addressed to Armstrong, the letters state that “TxDOT continues to have concerns regarding the design methodology, assumptions, design criteria, and code interpretations contained in the (construction authorization) submission.”

Asked by the Caller-Times how long that disagreement lasted, Williams said the design disagreement may predate the June 2021 letters, but didn’t say exactly when those concerns first arose.

Williams said TxDOT went public with the disagreement now — at least a year later — because TxDOT wanted to give the developer enough time to address design issues it had that were corroborated by IBT.

The key players in the project have already been removed.

In 2019, TxDOT suspended design work on the bridge and fired then-designer FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc., which was the subject of a National Transportation Safety Board report criticizing the company’s work.

The report involved a Florida pedestrian bridge designed by FIGG that collapsed in March 2018. Six people died and 10 people were injured. The FIGG pushed back against the report, pointing out that the construction of the bridge – not its design – was a contributing factor.

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